St. Catherine's Monastery, part of the Eastern Orthodox church, located at the foot of Egypt's Mount Sinai is cooperating with a team to create the first digital archive of all 4,500 ancient manuscripts, starting with around 1,100 in the Syriac and Arabic languages.
A team from Greece has been photographing thousands of fragile manuscripts in the St. Catherine's Monastery monastery's library, including some of the earliest copies of the Christian gospels, using a process which takes images in red, green and blue light and merges them with computer software to create a single high-quality coloured picture.
Experts estimate the task could take more than a decade, using digital cameras and computers alongside sophisticated cradles designed to support the more fragile manuscripts.
Ancient Christian manuscripts digitised at monastery beneath Mount Sinai https://t.co/eJQ24zeUgB— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) April 17, 2019
There is a sense of urgency to the team’s mission as the monastery lies in a region where Islamist militants have destroyed countless cultural artefacts and documents in Syria and Iraq.
"The upheaval of our times requires a rapid completion of this project," Archbishop Damianos of Sinai, Faran and Raitho, and Abbot of St. Catherine's Monastery, told Reuters by email.
The project began last year and is being undertaken by the non-profit research organisation Early Manuscripts Electronic Library (EMEL), in collaboration with the monastery and the Library of the University of California, Los Angeles. UCLA Library said it will start publishing the manuscripts online, in full colour, from the fall of 2019.
"This library is an archive of the history of Christianity in the Mediterranean world, and therefore is of interest to communities all over the world who find their history here," Michael Phelps, director of the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library, told Reuters.
The digitisation of the first stage alone, the Syriac-Arabic manuscripts, will take around three years and cost a projected $2.75 million, said Phelps.
The project will provide a more complete record than partial microfilming carried out decades ago by the U.S Library of Congress and the National Library of Israel. The two institutions are making their records available to the new digitisation effort, the project's organisers said.